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Guest: Sterling Howard: Founder/Owner of Musician's Contact Service
Sterling Howard started in Los Angeles in 1969, as the founder and still current owner of Musician's Contact and was a lead singer performing in local clubs. At this time there was no magazine or newspaper for bands and musicians to locate each other, so he rented an office upstairs in the famous Whisky a Go-Go in Hollywood. By distributing flyers on the Sunset Strip and posting ads in music stores he soon attracted a large number of players and bands.
In the first few months, several name groups of the era such as Canned Heat, Strawberry Alarm Clock, and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap searched for musicians. Todd Rundgren came in seeking a keyboardist and Dr. John dropped in needing a percussionist and fell asleep on the office couch! Blues legend Albert Collins used the service the first of many times. The Beach Boys wanted some brass players but no brass players had registered yet! A new group, Earth, Wind, and Fire was doing a showcase and couldn't afford to pay the guitarist they needed. And rockabilly great Gene Vincent picked up Billy Zoom (later the guitarist in X). Within a year the office was moved to a larger location. In the early 1970's, traveling bands found members as they passed through California. As word spread, groups from other states called for replacements. Full time working Top 40 acts became more popular. Barry White, Alice Cooper, Little Feat, Frank Zappa, The Captain & Tennille, Neil Diamond, Spirit, Steppenwolf, Eric Burdon, The Righteous Brothers, Iron Butterfly and El Chicano all used the service during this time. Ambrosia found drummer Burleigh Drummond, and an unknown by the name of Billy Joel just wanted a piano bar job! By the late 1970's the office staff had grown to five, and Sterling opened a branch office near Disneyland. Las Vegas groups like Sha Na Na, The Association, The Lettermen and Helen Reddy imported players. Country artists such as Brenda Lee, Jim Stafford, Louise Mandrell, Freddy Fender, Dorsey Burnette and Poco used the service for road jobs, while disco was king in the local clubs. As new wave rock emerged, Berlin found vocalist Terri Nunn, Terry Bozzio and Missing Persons found keyboardist Chuck Wild and Danny Elfman with Oingo Boingo found trumpeter Dale Turner. And The Runaways located Jackie Foxx as Duran Duran, The Knack, The Motels, and Animotion used fill-in players. Artists as diverse as Al Stewart, Bobby McFerrin, REO Speedwagon, Jan & Dean, Shalamar, Steve Vai, and War also searched as well as Rick Springfield, who formed two complete road bands from Musicians Contact files.
Soon a major change occurred in the way jobs were distributed by the service. Sterling hired a team of technicians to build a custom-made computer connected to seven tape recorders. Now members could call 24 hours, enter a code, and hear recorded job descriptions. It was primitive by today's standards, but it worked and this was in 1983! Jazz names starting using the service. George Duke, Herbie Hancock, Al Jarreau, Maynard Ferguson, Stanley Clarke, The Crusaders, Hiroshima, and John Klemmer picked up various sidemen. Cruise ship jobs became more popular, hiring a variety of bands. Actor David Hasselhoff needed a sax player and comedian Howie Mandel hired a back-up group. Also seeking some talent were Nikki Sixx, The New Edition, Billy Preston, Weird Al Yankovic, Tower of Power, Gregg Bissonette, and Klymaxx.
Entering the era of music videos for television, managers viewed pictures of musicians for use in commercials and videos. A production assistant for Madonna came in seeking lip sync performers. Glen Frey, Barry Manilow, Cher, Cyndi Lauper, Boz Scaggs, Tom Waits, Vanessa Williams, Ricky Lee Jones and Robin Zander auditioned players for various roles. By 1988 the "antique" computer in use for five years gave way to the science of voice mail, so a new computer system was put into action to distribute the job listings. Hard rockers Warrant searched for a new vocalist, Ozzy Osbourne auditioned guitarists and drummers on two different occasions, Lita Ford found a keyboardist, Michael Schenker, Foghat, Stu Hamm, Alcatrazz, and Peter Criss were listed along with Japan's Loudness and the outrageous Nina Hagen, who hired a synth player. On the other side of the Pacific, jobs arrived from the Orient, booking R&B, funk, and soul groups for long term gigs. By 1995 it was time to upgrade the call-in hotline with an advanced voice mail system. This new computer allowed individuals to record a one minute profile and demo, heard by employers over the phone. And the list continued: Tiffany assembled a group to tour Europe, Dishwalla searched for a bassist, Prong, Biohazard, and Michael Penn all needed guitarists, the musical Stomp found percussionists and Body Count, Gene Loves Jezebel and Snot hunted for drummers, while John Lydon snagged a keyboardist for a Japanese tour. In 1999, Musicians Contact became fully online, connecting jobs to available musicians via the Internet. Kenny Chesney found a keyboardist, The Smashing Pumpkins ran ads for bassists and drummers at different times, Pink searched for a new bass player, Cirque du Soleil employed several keyboardists, a few American Idol finalists added musicians and The Pussycat Dolls hunted for a new singer. We hope it's been an interesting history lesson as we march past 2010!
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Date: February 25, 2015
Time: 7:30 PM PST
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